MICHAEL McKINLEY. Defence policies and alliances have become the new religion. Part 4 of 5 : The Sacramental Alliance.Jan 25, 2018
Government pronouncements in Australia, especially in the fields of Strategy and National Security, it is claimed, are determined by scientific rationality and definitely not configured according to religious belief. This is both fraudulent and a dangerous conceit: religion, has not been banished; indeed, the present reeks of ecclesiastical history and religion (more specifically, its deformation, religiosity). Accordingly, the proposition is that a more politically accurate understanding of Australia’s mindset is to be afforded by an interrogation of five aspects: the present state of world politics in history; the acutely deranged state of the present; the emergence of the Papal Presidency in the US; the religious state of the Australia-US Alliance; and White Papers and their like as religious documents.
The attractions of reaffirming the religious faith in the alliance with the United States in the face of the crisis in world politics is not to be dismissed out of hand. When science and secularism prove to be disenchanting, and the world is disappointing at every turn, the noble faculty of reason is mute in the matter of politics’ mysteries and paradoxes. For the faithful grounded in the punitive and pessimistic Old Testament, as those who confess the American civil religion are, the choice is between a return to the faith and the sacraments on offer, or living without consolation an existence so highly contingent as to be experienced as a punishment meted out by an indifferent judge, an outlook captured by our own Morris West:
You are conceived without consent, wrenched whimpering into an alien universe, with your sentence already written in the palm of your hand: a cancer will eat your guts; a fanatic with an axe will cut off your head, a tiger, escaped from a village circus, will devour you; a drunken fool will mow you down with an automobile; you will live, smiling and loquacious, until a dutiful idiot drops a hydrogen bomb in your backyard.
In short, the reaffirmation of the alliance is convivial to the bloodstream on the basis of first principles. As Karen Armstrong argues the case, if religion is understood as a form of the Greek mythos, or myth, and myth is understood as a “primitive form of psychology,” then we can further understand religion as a way in which people might “assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles.” It thus, “help[s] people live creatively in our confusing world;” helps them, “negotiate the obscure regions of the psyche,” and provides them with what is, “essentially a programme of action.” If practiced competently and efficiently, it yields that level of deep satisfaction outside of normal experience which was known to the Greeks as ekstasis.
Paradoxically, for those who proclaim themselves International Relations realists, faith in the divinity of the alliance, indeed any alliance for that matter, is heresy – a denial of Hans Morgenthau’s resigned pessimism that we live “under an empty sky from which the Gods have departed.” Accordingly, the insistence on alliance returns the discourse to faith – as the old Baltimore Catechism defined it, “an act of the intellect, prompted by the will, by which we believe” and accept as doctrine what is demanded in terms of authorised virtuous behaviour.
In sum, Australia’s original conversion to, and mandatory adoption of the global political theories, strategies, pronouncements, and fiats of the US alliance, necessarily involved submission to a self-defined theocratic power. Through American Exceptionalism was proclaimed New Zion, but, on closer examination this was for declaratory purposes relating to origin; operationally, it was always, and remains New Rome: judgemental, exclusivist, and punishing.
The very term, “American Alliance,” is a misnomer unless it refers solely to a national church in communion with a wider body of belief and practice. In so doing it becomes clear that the system of US alliances is, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-national – literally, Catholic – which is to say universal. It’s presence extends, moreover, to cyber-space and outer space. Conjoined with American Exceptionalism it fulfils the three other professions of faith in the Church formulated in the early 4th Century in the form of the Nicene Creed: unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam Ecclesiam (“one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”).
For the pious nation-states, a range the full range of sacraments governs daily life (and death), and though all are relevant, in the interest of brevity only three – the Sacraments of Initiation – will be mentioned for the purposes of a brief indication of their presence. Accordingly, new states are approved and admitted (Baptism) to the body of practitioners through a variety of rituals requiring the renunciation of sin and the promise of fidelity.
Beyond Baptism, there is the Eucharist (to receive the body and blood of Christ via the transubstantiation of bread and wine) is achieved whenever the defining characteristics of the United States become part of the spirit and political body of an ally – an almost constant state of ingestion for most alliance members.
Then, Confirmation, a formal anointing and recognition that a communicant is a true soldier of the Church, and more perfectly bound to it than previously; it is extended as a gift of special strength and obligates the receiver to defend the faith by word and deed. Explicitly rejects in any notion of Luther’s solo fide (“justification by faith alone”).
Accepting the sacraments (foreign and military aid, favourable weapons purchasing arrangements, training and exchange opportunities, etc.) enhances the prospect of salvation. Refusing the sacraments is a decision to live outside the church in that condemned, terroristic state expressed in Cyprian of Carthage’s 3rd Century axiom, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (‘outside the Church there is no salvation’).
Such inclinations by the designated authorities to lay claim to an unerring authority to pronounce and define questions, answers and interpretations on matters that attendant expert advisors hold in good faith to be contestable, unknowable, or simply preposterous is both marked and of long standing.
That they are obeyed testifies to the willing submission of the believers, and to the spirit of acceptance expressed as: Christus ipse locutus est (“this is Christ himself speaking”). Documents such as the National Security Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Reviews pour forth from Washington, DC to maintain the orthodox in their thinking; in Canberra they are received in the same way as would be a Papal Encyclical. Regardless of their content and wisdom, dissent is unthinkable. In due course, or occasionally in excited anticipation of such occasions, White Papers are produced for the instruction of the congregations – essentially, in this case, the direct equivalent of an Encyclical from a Bishop.
From 1982 to 1988, Michael McKinley taught diplomacy international relations and strategy in the department of Politics, at UWA. From 1988 to 2014 he taught diplomacy, international relations and strategy at the ANU. He is currently a member of the Emeritus Faculty at the ANU.